Category Archives: Beverages

Easy Watermelon slushie

My mom and I made watermelon slushies from fruit leftover from the Fourth of July. The slushies are great in hot weather.

My mom and I made watermelon slushies from fruit leftover from the Fourth of July. The slushies are great in hot weather.

G. and I drove to North Carolina to see my family over the Fourth of July holiday. We had a lot of relatives in town, so Mom bought watermelon. Then we had a lot of watermelon leftover. We used it to make slushies on a hot day.

Watermelon Slushie
2 pounds seedless watermelon, cut in cubes (that’s rind-on weight)
Juice of 1 lime
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon water
3 leaves fresh mint, chopped
1 tablespoon sugar

Line a baking sheet with parchment, wax paper or a silicone liner. Place the watermelon on the baking sheet, and place the sheet in the freezer for exactly 30 minutes.

Place all the ingredients in a food processor or ice-crushing blender and blend, scraping down the sides as needed, until no chunks are left. Easy slushie!

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Mike’s crantinis

Our friend Mike makes a beautiful and fabulous cranberry martini.

Our friend Mike makes a beautiful and fabulous cranberry martini.

We had a party last fall that included a cooking competition in three categories: apple, cranberry and pumpkin. The overall winner was our friend Mike, who made beautiful cranberry martinis. He made another batch last night for New Year’s Eve, and once again, they were the hit of the party.

To make them, you need vodka, simple syrup and a cranberry base. The recipe for the base is below. To make simple syrup, you simply heat water until it boils, turn off the heat, add an equal amount of sugar (such as 1 cup water to 1 cup sugar) and stir the sugar until it dissolves. Simple syrup will keep in your refrigerator for a while.

At the fall party, Mike used a 1:1:1 ratio of cranberry base, simple syrup and vodka. But one of our friends wanted a drink that was sweeter and stronger, so last night, he went with a 1:2:3 ratio of 1 ounce of cranberry base, 2 ounces of simple syrup and 3 ounces of vodka. Play with the ratio and see what you like.

Cranberry Martini Base
1 12-ounce bag of cranberries
1 1/2 cups orange juice

Place the cranberries and orange juice in a sauce plan. Simmer until the berries pop. Let the mixture cool, and then run it through a food mill with fine mesh to remove the skins and seeds. Store the liquid in the refrigerator or freeze it until you are ready to use.

My husband’s amazing mojitos

Mojito

This summer has been a nonstop party since G. learned to make mojitos. The drinks have an added benefit of using mint, which tends to grow out of control in our garden.

The spearmint in our garden grows out of control, and in early spring, G. cut the plant in half and pulled out an enormous chunk to try to get a grip on it.

Then he learned to make mojitos. Too much mint is no longer a problem. In fact, after one recent party, G. remarked that he needed to let the spearmint plant bounce back a bit. A friend then suggested G. switch to peppermint, which we also grow. That monster plant is under control now too.

G. does make the best mojitos. Nothing we’ve ordered at a bar compares. That may be because G.’s recipe came from his boss’ wife, who is a culinary teacher. So, it’s a professional recipe. (G. would say it’s his technique.)

Here’s how you make them:

My Husband’s Mojitos

In a pint glass (or red Solo cup):
5 pieces of key limes
6-8 mint leaves
1.5 shots of simple syrup (see below)
2.5 shots of rum (2 for me since I’m a lightweight)
ice
club soda

Place the mint in the cup and muddle it. Squeeze the chunks of lime so the juice falls into the cup. Toss in the lime pieces, and muddle those too. Fill the cup with ice. Add the simple syrup and rum. Top off with club soda.

Simple Syrup

2 cups water
2 cups sugar
12 (or more) mint leaves

Boil the water. Turn off the heat, toss the mint leaves into the water and stir in the sugar. Let the syrup cool. Store it in the refrigerator.

A new year, a new chai recipe with less sugar


Chai. I can’t kick the habit. I don’t even know if I want to kick it.

It’s the thing I look forward to in the morning, especially on weekend mornings, when I’ve had to drag my ass out of bed at 6 a.m. to be at work by 7, and most of the rest of the city is still asleep. And especially in the winter, when it’s dark and cold in the morning, and the walk to work leaves me chilled and damp. The whole time I’m walking, I think, “I’ll just get inside and have some tea. And the morning will go fast. It won’t be so bad.”

Did I mention I recently bought a lamp with a full-spectrum light bulb for my desk at work? Seasonal affective disorder is a bummer.

And so there I am, shuffling along the street, looking forward to my chai, looking for something to brighten my morning. I realize this is probably the definition of emotional eating, if not outright addiction: I drink chai as a replacement for sleeping in.

But there you have it, and right now, I’m not strong enough to kick it. I have, however, made some dietary and financial progress with my addiction since this time last year.

I’ve generally stopped going to Starbucks (although I still love them and feel a pang of yearning whenever one of my co-workers heads in that direction), and I’ve stopped buying Tazo and other commercial chai. I make my own, and I’ve further reduced the sugar since I posted the recipe in February.

Essentially, I just cut out the honey from the first recipe. I experimented with cutting the cane sugar instead, but the tea with 1/3 cup of honey didn’t taste as sweet, and then I didn’t want to add more honey to make it sweeter since that seemed contrary to the goal of reducing the overall amount of sweetener.

I’m sure my doctor would like me to cut the sugar even more, and I  experimented with that too, but I just wasn’t happy with the taste. I figure a little at a time is better than no progress at all. Baby steps.

Chai concentrate (revised)

4 cups water

5 bags black tea

1/3 cup raw cane sugar

1 cinnamon stick

8 whole cloves

6 cardamom pods (cracked)

Combine the water, sugar, tea and spices in a saucepan and heat until sugar dissolves. Simmer for about 15 minutes (although if you are rushed, and I often am, you can squeak by with about 5 minutes).

Strain the liquid and store it in the refrigerator. I use a Mason jar with a plastic cap for this. The Mason jar is good because it can tolerate the heat if I don’t have time to let the liquid cool before straining.

To drink, add one part concentrate to one part milk and warm.

Chai is the security blanket that kick starts my day

I’ve been trying to wean myself off Starbucks for months. It seemed silly, all the money I was spending there.

But I can’t give up chai. I just can’t. It gives me a boost of sugar and caffeine in the morning to get me going. I’d probably never make it to work otherwise. As it is, I’m always five minutes late. Sometimes 10.

And, my addiction _ like all addictions _ isn’t just physical. It’s mental. Having a cup of chai sitting at my desk with me makes me feel safe. It’s that little happy thing that makes up for all the verbal abuse the writers dish out and the general stress of a job in which everything can always be done better and faster. The situation sucks, but at least there’s chai.

To save money, I started buying Tazo chai concentrate at the grocery store. I’d warm it up, mix it with milk, pour it into my insulated mug, slap on the lid and off I’d go, all set for another day. It was just like going to Starbucks because, well, Starbucks makes Tazo.

Then, about two weeks ago, my grocery store stopped stocking Tazo chai. They have Vanilla Rooibos, but that doesn’t do it for me.

In such circumstances, there’s really only one thing to do: Break out the cookbooks and crank up the Web. I tried a New York Times recipe, and then I looked at a couple on allrecipes.com and FoodPress.

But the one I’ve ended up working with comes from Greg Atkinson’s West Coast Cooking. I knew it was special when I read the introduction to the recipe, and he talked about the creation of Oregon Chai. His recipe, which as far as I can tell is in his book but not online, does in fact taste just like Oregon Chai.

That’s a bit sweet for me. I adjusted, adding water, cutting sugar and reducing the cinnamon just a bit because cinnamon sticks have become wildly expensive in my grocery. My chai is now perfect for my taste, and what I really like is that the syrup works just like the commercial kind. I mix one part syrup to one part milk, microwave it a bit, and I’m good to go.

Chai concentrate

4 cups water

6 bags black tea

1/3 cup Demerara sugar

1/3 cup honey

1 cinnamon stick

8 whole cloves

6 cardamom pods (cracked)

Combine the water, sugar and honey in a saucepan and heat until sugar dissolves. Add tea and spices. Simmer for about 15 minutes.

At this point, you need to strain it, but I usually let it cool a bit first, just because hot liquid can be hard to handle. After you strain the tea, store it in the refrigerator. A Mason jar with a cap is great for this.

To drink, add one part concentrate to one part milk and warm.

Note: You can also use loose leaf black tea. I just can’t get it in my grocery store. Insanity, I know! I usually just cut the bags open and dump the tea in the pan.

Good days start with Mexican hot chocolate

 

Atole con Chocolate combines the flavors of cocoa, sugar, cinnamon and vanilla.

Today is a snow day, which is something that I haven’t had in a long, long time. My work schedule has been adjusted so that I have Mondays and Wednesdays off to take a food history class at one of the nearby colleges. But all the schools in the city are shut down today because of the big snow storm, giving me my first day in a long time with no work, no school, no family obligations and, really, nothing to do but whatever I want. I slept in and then spent several hours on the phone with T., my best friend in Seattle.

Before I called T., I made Mexican hot chocolate, which has become G.’s and my special occasion drink. The specialness started in the fall, when I was trying to get G. to go see a doctor. He hadn’t been to one in years. He would go see the nurse at work if he had a headache or something minor was bothering him, and he’d been to see his sinus doctor, but he hadn’t been to a regular doctor for a physical or checkup in a decade or more. I decided he was old enough to start getting annual checkups, and I asked, then nagged, then begged him to go. He wouldn’t. Apparently, going to the doctor when you don’t have a severe, perhaps fatal, illness is something only girlie men do. So, I made Mexican hot chocolate for G. and told him that it was a bribe to get him to go to the doctor and that he would get another cup once he went. He made an appointment that afternoon, and I bowed to the power of the hot chocolate.

We had Mexican hot chocolate again on the morning of New Year’s Eve. I have a very clear memory of me making hot chocolate while G. sang along with a song on our iPod. It was the calm before and after the storm. His father was out of the hospital and had started eating again, however little it was. My grandmother was still alive. My mother had not yet been told she had skin cancer. Death and grief were just around the corner, but we didn’t know it. We were quietly, contentedly happy.

The first thing G. had asked for that morning was hot chocolate. Part of the reason it’s so special is that he can only have it in the morning because if he drinks caffeine after noon, he won’t sleep that night. And, since we have conflicting schedules and spend very few mornings together, there are few opportunities for me to make it for him.

I was thinking about the relationship between scarcity and value this week while writing a paper for my food history class.  The paper was on the Columbian Exchange, which was the transfer of foods and other goods between the Old and New Worlds after Columbus landed in the Americas in 1492. Europeans brought coffee, sugar and livestock to the Americas and took back corn, potatoes, tomatoes and peppers.

The Mexican hot chocolate we drink is a near perfect combination of Old World foods — sugar, milk and cinnamon — with discoveries from the New World — cocoa, corn and vanilla. The Maya and the Aztec drank chocolate long before Columbus landed, but their version — made with chilis and without sugar — was nothing like what we have today.

It was, however, a rare and special treat. Among the Aztec, chocolate was reserved for warriors and political and religious leaders. When the Spanish took it back to Europe, it quickly won favor among the social elite but would have been too expensive for most people to afford, even if they’d had the opportunity to buy it.

Slavery made hot chocolate available to the masses. The Portuguese and then the Spanish established sugar plantations in Central and South America that they ran with slave labor. In about 150 years, sugar went from being an expensive medicinal spice to a cheap sweetener used in coffee, tea and cocoa. Chocolate itself became affordable as the Spanish increased production, first with Indian labor, and then when the native population died off, slaves brought from Africa.

The price of sugar has never fully recovered from a price collapse in the late 1600s, when the market became saturated with sugar from the Caribbean. And cocoa became relatively cheap once the Portuguese and others moved production to their colonies in Africa. Criollo cacao, the form preferred by the Aztec and early Spanish, was too finicky and susceptible to disease to do well in Africa, but the tougher, more bitter forastero cacao did fine. Most Americans today have never tasted criollo, which is still grown in Central American but remains an expensive luxury.

Sometimes, I think about how lucky I am to be born in this country in this century. I suppose I could ponder the advantages that come from being white, American and living in an era when woman can vote, own property and hold nearly any job they want.

But more often, I think about small luxuries. For example, I have a clothes washer and dryer in my building. I can do my laundry without ever going outside. When my mother was born, my grandmother had no washer or dryer and had to wash all the cotton diapers by hand. I am amazed she went on to have three more children.

I have a similar sense of wonder with my hot chocolate. Asians, Arabs and Europeans built trade routes and undertook hazardous voyages of six months or more to acquire cinnamon. Africans were taken from their homes and worked to death so that Europeans could get chocolate and sugar. Cinnamon, sugar, cocoa and vanilla: they were foods worth killing for, perhaps dying for. And for me, it’s just a two-block walk to the grocery store.

That’s partly why I am grateful that G. can’t have chocolate after noon. His limits force me to choose carefully when I am going to have chocolate, and because I don’t have Mexican hot chocolate every day, it remains special. I don’t want to take for granted something that was so rare and hard-won for so many for so long.

Atole con Chocolate

Source: West Coast Cooking by Greg Atkinson

2 teaspoons  cornstarch

1/4 cup sugar

2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1 teaspoon cinnamon

2 cups milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine cornstarch, sugar, cocoa powder and cinnamon in a pan and whisk together. Add milk and whisk over medium-high heat until mixture comes to a gentle boil. Stir in vanilla extract.

Pour into mugs and let cool to the desired temperature. Don’t let it cool completely to room temperature or it will become too thick.